Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Amid Confusion, Sweat the Small Stuff

Did I mention that CASH IS KING? Only about 1000 times, and today's market action - not only in stocks, but in commodities too - confirmed that sometimes the best thing you can do with your money is to simply keep it in your pocket. Not only were stocks, gold, silver and oil all lower today, but the dollar gained against most other major currencies, so those greenbacks are actually doing better today around the world than yesterday.

Economics is not rocket science. In fact, it's not even regarded as a science, probably because the rules are different everywhere and, like these days, when the rules don't exactly suit those in power, they change them. How anyone is expected to make predictions on directions of entire economies is an open question. So-called "experts" are often widely off the mark in their predictions of everything from GDP to unemployment to the price of soybeans, making it advisable to just ignore most of the market "noise" and focus on what's really important: Your hoard of green.

If you own stocks, today was probably not a particularly pleasing event, but, that's how it goes - up and down - keeping you and your financial future in a perpetual yo-yo state. Did you ever stop to think that maybe that's because the big-time players like Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, the Federal Reserve and the US Treasury want you to be in such a condition?

You, as an individual taxpayer and person, aren't supposed to be able to game the system. In fact, the major forces in the market don't even want you to be a player. That's why they want your money in 401k plans, retirement funds, annuities and bonds, all overseen, managed and mishandled by somebody else. They play with your money, even though they say it's yours... when you're 59, or 65, or after you've paid the penalties and taxes.

A couple of years ago, I suggested on this blog that it might not be a bad time to dump your entire portfolio, even those sacred "retirement" funds, pay the penalty and whatever taxes might accrue and convert it all to cash. Put it all in a bank account, maybe in money market funds or CDs, and just keep it that way. That was 2007. We were at the all-time height of the longest bull market since World War II. Sounds like pretty good advice. I'd say that even if one took a 25% hit between penalties and taxes, one would still be ahead today after all the carnage and even after the spectacular rebound. Heck, if you were smarter than me and put some of it into gold or silver, you'd be even further ahead.

So, while the markets churn along with your stomach and you watch your retirement fade into the distance, you have probably overlooked the obvious fault points of your "plan." You're not watching your own consumption. Now, I'm not saying that you should pinch every last penny, but Americans have, over the last 30 years, become the ultimate consumption machine, quaffing down $4.00 lattes, spending $3 a gallon on vehicles which only get 12 miles per and generally living for today, assuming that Social Security will be there for all of us down the road.

Basically, if you are basing your retirement planning inclusive of pension plans and Social Security, you are as blind as the fabled three mice. Baby Boomers are only now beginning to retire, with the bulk of them hitting the golden years of 65-67, not now, but in 2013-2017. Why do you think the government is so hell-bent on passing health care "reform?" The more they and their friends in the insurance/hospital/funeral/cemetery business consortium can kill off over the next 3-5 years, the less they'll have to pay out. That's why they keep pushing the pills along with the other nonsense instead of promoting healthier lifestyles. Sadly, most Americans are pill-popping fools to the extent that real drug addicts glaze over with jealousy.

So, if you insist on Starbucks, SUVs and porterhouse steaks, at least ride a bike once in a while, put a dollar away in savings every time you buy a latte or expensive coffee and have a salad once in a while. Your colon, in addition to your heart, will thank you in many ways. Examine your lifestyle and your planning. Chances are very good you're working with unsustainable assumptions, Social Security at the top of the list, followed closely by mutual funds, retirement promises and stock market analysts.

Dow 10,603.15, -122.28 (1.14%)
NASDAQ 2,291.25, -29.15 (1.26%)
S&P 500 1,138.04, -12.19 (1.06%)
NYSE Composite 7,329.83, -113.85 (1.53%)

Declining issues wrestled down advancers, 4784-1744. New Highs: 275; New Lows: 47. Volume was strong. The market was down. Go figure. Maybe those loan losses reported by Wells Fargo and Bank of America have people just a little bit nervous. The slowdown in new home construction couldn't have helped. Sure, the stock market is up, but who's getting raises? Who's creating jobs? Nobody, pretty much. And, if you're one of those people buying a new home, good luck with that. You're just giving yourself a big fat minus sign next to your net worth. Home values may decline another 20-30% in some areas of the country. Elsewhere, they'll remain flat for the next five years, at least.

NYSE Volume 5,436,784,000
NASDAQ Volume 2,393,919,500

Oil dipped $1.87, to $77.62. Gold fell $27.00, to $1,113.00. Silver lost 92 cents, to $17.88. All wins for those who believe in deflation.

When the real problems occur, when banks actually fail instead of being bailed out, when the piper must be paid for all the federal government deficits, cash will not only be king, it will buy everything and anything it wants.

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